- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: McClelland & Stewart (April 11 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0771050704
- ISBN-13: 978-0771050701
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 1.3 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 200 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #115,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
I have to live Paperback – Apr 11 2017
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Praise for THOU by Aisha Sasha John:
• "An act of deep attention to the physical self, to the positioning of bodies in the world, Aisha Sasha John's THOU takes us on a journey through power and society, hatred and love, anger and healing, offering an intimate, clear-eyed look at our shared humanity. Original, funny, sensuous; at once profound and unpretentious, John's lines are a pleasure and a revelation." -- Jury comment, Trillium Book Award for Poetry
• "To read this book is to experience the poem happening to you--and to want in." -- 49th Shelf
• "A book of meditative chant, sing-song patter and performance lyric, THOU is a collection of poetry shaped around a pronoun, inquiring, shaking and prodding and shattering." -- rob mclennan
• "Aisha Sasha John's THOU re-plays that archaic pronoun as a constantly present movement and rhythm of attention: the suddenness of the interpolative 'moment.' These lines of poetry 'shake . . . a little' as the 'I' narrates and choreographs a monologue of the self in motion; each page is the dance floor and John's words break through the 'I-as-you' with both the foreignicity of anticipation and the reflection of grace." -- Fred Wah
• “[John’s poetry] bristles with an intelligence sharpened on the realization that feeling is a way of thinking. . . . The effect, of looseness carrying and building tropes in a way that explicates and satisfies, while maintaining an air of mystery, makes THOU a model of poetic construction.” — Michael Newton, Urchin Movement
About the Author
AISHA SASHA JOHN is a poet, dancer, and choreographer. Her most recent collection, I have to live., was a finalist for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her solo performance the aisha of is, which premiered at the Whitney Museum in 2017, will be presented at Toronto’s 2018 Summerworks Festival. In addition to her solo work, Aisha choreographed, performed, and curated as a member of the collective WIVES from 2015–2017. Aisha's other books include The Shining Material and THOU, which was a finalist for both the Trillium and Relit Book Awards. Aisha was the 2018 University of Toronto, Scarborough Writer-in-Residence. She was born in Montreal.
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John says that the words “I have to live” were originally inspired as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. She says that by saying “Black lives matter”, rather than, say, “My life matters”, the protester is removing themselves in some way from the movement. It becomes a third-person fight. It puts the power in the hands of someone else, rather than fighting for one’s own life. This idea is mirrored within the book, and therefore the naming is adept. The title serves to invite the reader and individual to be more active both in art and in politics, and to enter into the world of Aisha Sasha John.
The idea of living for oneself is also found within the dedication, when she writes, “This book is dedicated to those whom it is for.” This book does not ask to be anything that it cannot be. It iterates John’s decision to write for herself and the people who appreciate her writing as it is, rather than for a general audience. However, this is not by any means a niche book. It is honest and candid, accessible in its language and its context. The writing in this book is not coy. By that I mean that within her writing John is aware of the act of performance and artifice that is somewhat inherent to poetry. The first poem in this book, entitled, “Something softens me”, ends with the line “I am the bride of your listening” (John 3). This line indicates that John is giving herself over in vulnerability to the reader and devoting herself to the way that the reader will experience her text, but also drawing attention to the strange relationship between author and reader. This line also reiterates the way that she has devoted herself to her art, and invited the reader to be vulnerable with her in their reading of the rest of the text.
The idea of not compromising oneself if reiterated within John’s poem entitled “He thinks I would be glad because they”. The next line of the poem plays off the title, saying “Like the idea of Aisha./I am not the idea of Aisha.” She repeats the line “I am not the idea of Aisha” two more times throughout the poem, and ends with “I am Aisha.” This grounding and focused embodiment of abstract idea calls back to the title of the book, and to Aisha’s feelings towards the Black Lives Matter movement. It is the idea of bringing the focus back to one’s self. She has the power to change matters, both political and personal, as does the reader. It is an invitation not only to the reader, but to herself.
On page 48 of her book, John writes:
“I wonder if it’s sanitary
To leave the ketchup outside all the time.
At night, even.
And also the hot sauce.”
These lines were so simple yet made me feel engaged, because I then too started wondering about my ketchup, and my hot sauce. This pure and simple line encompasses what sharing a thought with yourself is like.
Another poem of Aisha’s that marked me, was her poem on page 61. This poem talks about her grandmother’s passing. I gravitated to the opening and ending lines of the poem most.
The opening reads:
“On the television
A woman carves from a stack of rice krispie squares
I enjoyed this because of the oddity of the imagery, and how it made you think about what she was watching.
And the ending lines:
“The next day my cousin sends me a message.
I read the message.
Then what I do is call my mother.
Now you don’t have any grandparents!”
John’s use of exclamation in the last line was interesting to me because it was a sad event, and feels as though she is trying to cope about her grandmother’s passing with humour. I think it resonated with me because I’ve heard people talk like this before, usually friends, or family. I think it’s a personal way to speak and show you’re feeling something, while not letting your guard down, as well as a common coping mechanism.
Lastly, on page 106, Aisha writes a poem about her new set of markers.
“So I have a brand new set of markers
And a couple bags of chips.
Yea, my hand is not steady
But my heart wet
Lend me your neck or your palm
And I will draw something ugly by accident.”
This poem is so tender; it is like an exclamation that she is ready and willing to share her love. The last two lines are especially tender,
Aisha’s writing style is comforting, hectic and real, which makes me enjoy her book a lot. It is as though a friend is letting you into their past and present.
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Aisha’s genius shows immediately not with the first poem, but with the dedication. “This book is dedicated to those whom it is for”. The dedication is minimalistic, straightforward and truthful. Those three things set the tone for the rest of the book. This book is not from Aisha’s head or her heart, it is straight from her gut. “I Have to Live” deals with the concepts of self acceptance and perseverance. By perseverance I mean specifically to keep hold of your perception of who you are, and to continually own who you perceive yourself to be.
“He thinks I should be glad because they
like the idea of Aisha. I am not the idea of Aisha
I am Aisha.”
There are many times in the book where these themes of self acceptance and perseverance appear, but I feel the above quote is the most powerful.
“I Have to Live” is really about Aisha’s life, hosting poems like the above, poems of self love, about her family, and about her day to day life and thoughts.
The book reads beautifully. All of her statements are direct and on point. It feels like she decided to write a diary, but first, she takes you and puts you straight into her brain to witness her wild and unrefined thoughts before they were ever condensed onto a diary page. For example:
“A turd of butter attaches to the pen as I write
this. I wonder if it’s sanitary
to leave the ketchup outside all the time.
at night, even
and also the hot sauce.”
I was lucky to attended a lecture given by Aisha. During her talk she said that in her first book, “The Shining Material” (2014), she really took care in formatting it so that the writing would be accessible and understandable to other people. She edited and edited until she had a piece of writing that she thought would be edible for the minds of others. Then when the book was released, and she received feedback, the thing she heard most commonly was that “it’s good, but hard to understand”. So, she said she really tried to write “I Have to Live” for herself. I do not know if she feels she succeeded, but there is an authenticity to this book that makes me think she absolutely did. They are simply complex unbridled thoughts and poems. What makes them wild is their blunt honesty and unapologetic nature. Not every line of the book made sense to me which also gave it an untamed air, but it didn’t matter, because every line feels authentic. It’s like her dedication, “This book is dedicate to those whom it is for”. If I didn’t understand a line, then that line just wasn’t for me at this point in my life. Maybe when I read the book again a year from now with different experiences I will understand those lines. Then they will be for me.
The colors of the book are purple- the color of royalty. Which brings us back to the beginning theme of self acceptance/perseverance. “I Have to Live”, because I deserve to be myself on this planet, because I am worth it.